On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division - Family Part, Hudson County, FM-09-2174-96.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: September 19, 2007
Before Judges Axelrad and Sapp-Peterson.
Defendant Mattie Long appeals from the September 22, 2006 order denying with prejudice her motion to declare void plaintiff's final judgment of divorce filed by the court on March 11, 1998. By order of June 16, 2006 the court had previously denied without prejudice appellant's motion filed on May 15, 2006, based on her failure to provide a basis for the eight-year delay in filing the Rule 4:50 motion for relief from the divorce judgment, and the subsequent order resulted from a refiling and telephonic argument. Plaintiff's mother and brother participated on his behalf, as he passed away on September 9, 2004.
The appellate record indicates that plaintiff filed for divorce and appellant filed an answer and counterclaim on October 15, 1996, both being represented by counsel. On May 23, 1997, the parties and counsel appeared before Judge DePasquale, during which plaintiff testified to a cause of action for divorce and the parties' agreement regarding plaintiff's two-year alimony was placed on the record. The court signed a temporary alimony order pending receipt of the consent judgment for divorce. Appellant then apparently informed her attorney and the court that she objected to the divorce and by letter of June 10, 1997, her attorney forwarded the one-page consent final judgment of divorce prepared by plaintiff's attorney to her, inquiring whether she wanted him to sign it and informing her that if he did not, the court would probably issue its own judgment. Presumably appellant did not respond because the judge crossed out the reference to "consent" in the caption and signed and filed the judgment on March 11, 1998.
Appellant's motion for relief from the divorce judgment was based on not having consented to the judgment and the decree not having been executed within ten days of the court's decision. She further argued the decree was void because the court did not have jurisdiction as plaintiff was not a New Jersey resident for one year preceding filing and she did not desert him but, rather, he deserted her. Appellant's explanation for the eight-year delay in filing was that she had some surgery, her son's father died, her mother died, and then plaintiff died and she was excluded from participating in his funeral. She never claimed she was unaware she was divorced until 2006, when she filed the motion for relief from the judgment.
On appeal, appellant renews the arguments made to the motion judge. We are not persuaded by any of these arguments and affirm substantially for the reasons articulated on the record by Judge Lourdes Santiago. As the court noted, appellant clearly filed her motion for relief from the divorce judgment far outside the one-year deadline under Rule 4:50-2, failed to provide the court with any reasonable explanation for the eight-year delay after being afforded an opportunity to do so, is barred by the doctrines of laches and estoppel, and presented no evidence to substantiate her claim that the judgment of divorce was void.
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